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I liked the comparison of a phone call to a child in the back seat, or a blind companion. Idiots.

The sad things is these people are allowed to operate tons of metal at high speeds.


The Diane Rehm show is very in making past shows available for streaming. This show should be up by this afternoon.

Also - Reading the comment sections of various reports on this proposal I am amazed at how many people still make a distinction between using a hand held versus a hands free appliance.

The reason the NTSB made the recommendation they did was in light of 10 years of study showing little of no difference in the degradation of driver performance between the two modes of use.

Neurologists have found that the part of the brain that is used to process visual information (very important when driving) is also the exact same part when used when trying to concentrate on a conversation.

Furthermore - the brain does not multitask. it can either process what you are seeing or process what you are hearing. It can rapidly switch back and forth. But if you find yourself intently listening to conversation then for that moment you are basically blind.

One of the arguments I keep hearing regurgitated as to why cell phone use *should* be fine is that drivers are fine when talking with a companion sitting in the passenger's seat.

That argument doesn't really consider the mechanics of a conversation with another passenger vs. someone on the phone.
Someone sitting beside you - assuming they're not visually impaired - has all the same information about the road conditions available to them as you the driver do. This means that not only can they modulate their speech to let you concentrate on the road, but they can also alert you to things that you may have missed.

Regardless, the tax on the driver's brain from having to process the conversation - either live or over the phone is enough to really impair their abilities.

They have almost all the same info - depending on how your mirrors are configured.

I can't read a story about distracted driving or DUI without the old Heinlein SiFi story coming to mind. Maybe Star Ship Trooper, maybe not but the libertarian, personal responsibility slant from Troopers tracks. The story opened on a road side with a judge, jury and ambulance all standing by to carry out the sentence for a DUI conviction. The convicted driver was to be run over with a car and if he survived the ambulance would take him away, if not well they also had a hearse. I suppose we could update the story to allowing the convicted distracted driver to make a last call with his cell phone.

I have heard of people in NYC being pulled over for using their cell phones while driving. But does anyone know if this ever happens in DC? I'm aware that some driving infractions can only be ticketed as secondary offenses once a car is pulled over. Not sure if this is the case here.

It would be nice if there was some sort of local push to actually enforce the laws on the books. But it could be like the rolling-right-turn-on-red which seems to have become an inalienable god given right in the District.

Riley, I think you're thinking of The Number Of The Beast.

Had an afternoon meeting with an otherwise reasonable guy who happens to also bike - but lives way out in the boonies and doesn't take public transportation.

He went on at great length about how silly it would be to make a blanket rule against distracted driving because all the research is inconclusive and if handheld devices are outlawed a bunch of people will just switch to eating or other distracting behaviors. He cited a study where people were intensely trained to read and take dictation simultaneously, proving that it's possible to do two things at once.

I contributed my anecdotes about how frequently I spot a reckless driver and notice that they are also distracted - but I had to put the meeting back on topic before I got into a huge argument.

(@aaa - Yes, in DC using a handheld cellphone is a primary offense. In fact, even though I hardly drive except weekends I managed to get a primary offence citation last year for taking a call while driving, mid-day on a Sunday on a one-way street with no other moving cars for blocks. There's a first-offense forgiveness clause...)

Some obvious differences if there's a blanket ban:

1. It's easier to enforce, since a cop can cite you if he sees a cell phone being operated. With the status quo, there's inherent leeway inasmuch as the cop needs to prove the driver was actually texting or dialing, which might not be easy to do if the driver claims he was merely cueing a song up on his audio player. (There's still a potential exception for nav, tho, as a use that is directly related to the driving task.)

2. A blanket ban could theoretically be partially enforced using RF controls in vehicles.

3. Laws against specific actions that are already covered by more general laws (e.g. a law against distracted driving) are not redundant when they increase the penalties for those specific actions. We don't necessarily need a specific law against drunk driving, but having one gives judges the ability to penalize DUI more severely.


My responses to your otherwise reasonable guy:

all the research is inconclusive

He's wrong.

if handheld devices are outlawed a bunch of people will just switch to eating or other distracting behaviors

Maybe. But the research shows that conducting cell phone conversations and texting to be among the MOST distracting so substituting in a less distracting behavior is a step in the right direction.

He cited a study where people were intensely trained to read and take dictation simultaneously, proving that it's possible to do two things at once

Hmmm ... Is he aware of the state of driver training in the US today? Most applicants are just given the "mirror" test. If you can fog a mirror with your breathing you pass :)

I listened to the podcast of the show tonight. Once aspect they didn't go into was that of employer liability.

One of the points that a guest, Horace Cooper, and later a caller made was that many people need to be engaged in cell phone conversations while driving as part of their normal work day.

I recall awhile ago a lawyer was engaged in a conference call for work while driving and got into an accident.

Some enterprising personal injury attorney must have discovered this and named the law firm as a co-defendant in his suit.

When this made the news my employer issued a guideline banning all employees from using a phone while driving for company business.

I don't know the disposition of the case but if the courts consistently allow employers to be named as defendants then this could add additional pressure for people to leave the phone off and just drive.

If I'm alone on a limited-access highway, why can't I make a brief call? As far as I'm concerned, the law should increase penalties for accidents (with subpoena power to pull cell records) where the driver was on the phone, but I'm not sure it should be a primary offense itself.

@Joe D:

Because everybody's a super-excellent above-average driver to whom nothing bad will ever happen. At least in their own mind.

The only hope is deterrence.

I could make at least half my gross salary by riding around from Arlington to DC busting people driving while texting or holding a phone. They even do it in sight of DC police (also bike police!).
By the way, has anyone witnessed DC Bike Police actually pedaling? They seem to be hanging out next to the Old Exec Building looking cool or chatting up other police in crusiers.

Isn't there already something in the law books already concerning distracted driving?

I haven't listened to the show but I put into effect my own teensy-tiny program to prevent cell-phone use by drivers a couple of years ago after I was a hit by somebody who admitted it was because she was using her phone. It's my friends-don't-talk-to-friends-who-are-driving campaign. Many of my friends have found this highly annoying and the overall impact is admittedly small but I like to think I'm at the very least educating people about the issue.

@Joe D:
Giving a $50 ticket to every tenth reckless driver is a much bigger deterrent than giving jail time to people whose reckless driving takes a life. It's how humans are wired.

I'm sorry I missed the DR show, but I was busy reading my email and can only do so many things at once while I'm driving.

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